ABSTRACT

Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) is remembered in the West today as a poet, novelist, and sage who was briefly catapulted into international recognition through the twin efforts of Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats. 1 His range of activities, achievements, and influence was, in fact, much wider. Tagore set two thousand of his poems to music that he composed himself. He correctly predicted that these songs, collectively known as Rabindra-sangīt, would be the most enduring part of his output; 2 many of these songs have achieved enduring popularity among Bengalis in India, Bangladesh, and the global diaspora. They have had considerable influence on music in India and Bangladesh and, to a lesser extent, in Sri Lanka over the course of the twentieth century. Tagore was also an innovator in the fields of drama, dance, and education, and late in his life he took up painting, producing works that were exhibited both in India and in prestigious galleries in Paris and elsewhere in Europe and drew the admiration of some European modernist painters. 3 Nearly a century before ecological questions assumed global significance, Tagore drew attention to the devastating effects of unchecked ecological exploitation in plays such as Mukta-Dhārā (1922) and essays such as “Robbery of the Soil” (1924), and he made students at his university plant trees annually. 4 Finally, Tagore recognized early on the dangers of the kind of European nationalism that led to the two World Wars, as well as of religion-based völkisch nationalism. This led him to propound the kind of multicultural model for independent India that was taken up by Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, which proved to be highly influential in post-Independence India till the slow but steady ascendance of right-wing Hindu nationalism from the 1980s onwards.